Unvaccinated South Africans face threat of being denied entry into business and leisure sites
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Johannesburg - No vaccination. No entry.
As the Delta variant continues to wreak havoc around the world and in South Africa, this controversial sentiment is catching on in parts of Asia, the US and UK.
And although our Department of Health will not be drawn on whether it has a plan of action to engage with anti-vaxxers, legal and medical experts have confirmed that private businesses such as restaurants and shops may well adopt this strategy to keep their employees and other vaccinated customers safe from the deadly coronavirus.
In the US, private companies as well as various states are working to develop "vaccine passports" – mobile app technology that will allow Americans to prove they have been vaccinated for Covid-19.
In the UK, it has been reported that restaurants, cinemas and even sporting venues may turn away customers if they have not had a Covid-19 vaccine, the UK government’s new vaccine minister, Nadhim Zahawi, has suggested.
Although not law yet, already some nightclubs and venues have decided to require customers to have the NHS Covid Passport.
Back home, Mthokozisi Khathi, known as DJ Tira, announced on his Twitter account that patrons would require a Covid-19 vaccination card to gain entry to the Fact Durban Rocks December 2021 event.
“I’m looking at ways to keep you safe. So maybe let me rather ask. Good or bad idea?” – a post he later deleted and replaced with a video of himself being vaccinated.
Yesterday, however, acting Health Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi said no person should be forced to take the vaccine. It followed various reports that some employers were threatening to dismiss staff who choose not to receive the Covid-19 vaccine.
Kubayi, who was updating the nation this morning on the country's Covid-19 vaccine roll-out plan, said: “We all have freedom of choice. Vaccine is voluntary, whether you take the vaccine or not, please, we urge you not to infringe on the rights of others. No one can force you to take the vaccine, not even your employer.”
Earlier this week, the SA Human Rights Commission called on people to come forward if they had been threatened with losing their jobs or rented accommodation for refusing to have a Covid-19 vaccine.
But it may be easier for private businesses in South Africa to deny access to unvaccinated people.
Currently Section 25(1) of the Constitution recognises and protects South Africans’ property rights which recognises and protects freedom of association. Right of admission, within this context, means that owners of property may exclude whoever they wish from their property, for whatever reason, because they have a right to their property as well as freedom of association.
A lawyer, who did not want to be named, said there was already a “no mask, no entry” rule at private companies so there are already grounds to deny anti-vaxxers entry.
"On the flip side, when the vaccine is optional, it does mean that vaccination is also optional. However, in the case of Covid, because the virus is airborne, the argument for denying entry/vaccination is stronger.
“Establishments can deny entry as they cannot put the rest of the population at risk," the lawyer said.
Law professor Billy Gundelfinger said that the issues related to the constitutionality of Covid-19 vaccinations in the workplace and the right of admission in public places still needed to be determined.
He said that there were competing interests regarding the choice to be vaccinated. These competing interests were the right to decide what to put into your bodies as opposed to the welfare of employees and other people.
“Some employers have instituted compulsory vaccinations as part of their operational requirements and employees that refuse to be vaccinated can be retrenched.”
Wits Vaccinology Professor Shabir Madhi thinks that it wouldn't be a bad idea if South Africa followed suit with other countries who are demanding Covid vaccine certificates before getting jobs or entering a pub, for instance.
“The issue is contentious because it means that vaccinations to some extent need to become mandatory. But given the public health threat, I believe that there is good justification, especially in certain environments.”
Madhi said that providing anti-vaxxers with empirical evidence may convince them to change their minds.
“Unfortunately, dealing with the anti-vaxxers tends to lend them more oxygen then they are worthy of."
He said there were a number of reasons why people have refused to get vaccinated.
“Some are truly anti-vaxxers, who have a true disbelief of science, which makes it difficult to speak to them in any context or to convince them. But others are simply cautious without recognising the risks they face in terms of dying."
Madhi also expects a fourth Covid-19 wave in South Africa by the end of this year.
"The resurgence won't be so bad and we wouldn't have to go to higher levels of restriction provided we can assure our health-care facilities that they won't be overwhelmed. The only sustainable manner to prevent this is by ensuring that we get a high enough penetration of Covid 19 vaccines into the arms of adults, and especially adults who have a high risk of ending up in hospital and dying of Covid-19."
Madhi says that in South Africa it is unfortunate that we have vaccinated only just above 60% of people over the age of 60.
“That is a target we had wanted to complete by the end of June. It's something that needs to be done ... because they have been disproportionately represented when it comes to the number of people that have died of Covid 19.
“But at the same time we need to continue focusing on expanding the coverage of vaccines into other adult age groups, and in particular those individuals that have underlying medical conditions that increase their risk," said Madhi.
While most South Africans are keen to be vaccinated against Covid-19, research shows that there is a small group who are unlikely to be convinced to get the jab, said Caprisa (the Centre for Aids Programme of Research in South Africa) director, Professor Salim Abdool Karim.
He said studies have shown that around 70% to 80% of South Africans are happy to get vaccinated but others could still be convinced. He warned that there is a small percentage who will refuse it.
“There are about 11% of South Africans who are completely against it. There are many reasons for this, but some are conspiracy theorists whose anti-vaccine stance is amplified on social media.”
The leading epidemiologist explained that it would be challenging to engage with this group, who he believes are unlikely to change their minds about receiving the jab.
He stressed that interventions should rather be aimed at those who are still unsure about getting the vaccine, as their concerns such as the speed in which the jab was created, its efficiency and safety concerns, could be more easily addressed.
“We should continuously be focusing on messaging that shows the benefits of the vaccine.”
Karim added that in this case, the vaccine should speak for itself, and that many of those who get vaccinated will become ambassadors for the jab.
“Those who are still unsure can slowly become convinced when they see and hear their families and friends get the vaccine.”
The renowned epidemiologist said that studies have also shown that a new wave of Covid-19 infections, such as the worldwide outbreaks driven by the Delta variant, also drives an increase in vaccinations as fear of contracting the virus increases.
“A large number of those who are vaccine hesitant usually come forward when a new wave hits because the pressure to get vaccinated increases.”
While several groups around the world have taken a strong stance against the Covid-19 vaccine, Karim believes that much of this is driven by politics, such as the scenes witnessed in France and the US.
“In South Africa, we don’t have a political party that is anti-vaccine and it isn't considered a politically partisan issue, but in other countries anti-vaccine stances have been driven by elements of political movements.”
Meanwhile, Kubayi said that although SA's vaccination drive had slowed over the last few days, she was sure it would gain momentum.
More than 7.2 million vaccine shots have been administered in the country and it is hoped to get up to 300 000 jabs daily from next week.